Two things told me I was in trouble. The porch light was off, and I fumbled with the front door key, before realising it was for the shed. I’d only been down the pub for a couple of hours. Met some mates, watched Sky football. I knew Nancy was still up ‘cos the front room lights were on, which meant, she’d deliberately turned the porch lights off.
The television seemed louder than usual. I was tempted to walk straight upstairs, and go to bed, pretending I hadn’t wanted to interrupt the programme she was watching. If I went straight up, she’d think I was just going to the loo, and would be sat waiting for me, to open the lounge door, and get both barrels. I was getting quite anxious. My palms were sweaty, and my breathing tight. All this for a couple of pints on a Saturday night; was it worth it?
I decided to pre-empt the strike, so popped a mint in my mouth and opened the lounge door.
‘Hello my love. Alright? What’re you watching then?’
No reply. Nancy was in her usual place. Feet up on the sofa, coffee table laden with magazines, titbits, sweets and nuts. Xmas goodies, which kept us going for months into the New Year. The telly was definitely blaring out, but Nancy didn’t seem to care.
I exhaled alcoholic fumes quickly, then leant over the back of the sofa touched her hair, and stroked the back of her neck. That usually did the trick. Not this time. She was rigid, then shrugged and moved her body away as my hand touched her.
‘Wassup? I’ve only been out for a couple of pints. You knew I was going. I thought you didn’t mind.’ I hadn’t asked her permission, but earlier simply said casually ‘I’m popping down the pub for a couple of hours later. Do you want to come?’
I was kind of glad she didn’t say yes. I’d have taken her if she’d wanted to go, but was still relieved when she said no. We’ve been together now for years, and apart from an odd night down the pub, I hardly ever manage to get out of the house.
Nancy still hadn’t spoken, so I shrugged and walked towards the lounge door ready to go to bed. Her timing was perfect. Just as I touched the door handle.
‘Who is she John?’ I paused, feverishly trying to remember if any of my recent dalliances with the fairer sex had caused enough gossip to get back to her. They were only a bit of fun and I’d have run a mile if someone had said yes.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Who is she?’ repeated Nancy frostily. This time she at least looked at me, before reaching to the coffee table, picking up a photograph and throwing it towards me. It fluttered slowly in the air before landing face down at my feet. I didn’t need to turn it over, yet I innocently reached down and picked it up.
‘Nancy, what are you doing with this? What’s this all about? Come on love what’s going on?’
‘You tell me lover boy’ she said cynically. ‘Cos that’s what it says on the back of the photo. Lover boy. My lover boy. Since when?’
‘Where’d you get this from?’ I said calmly, breathing deeply, trying to conceal the turmoil within me, as my mind raced. Nancy was almost snarling.
‘Well one of the nice things about living with you, is that I have the dubious privilege of doing your washing and ironing. This evening I was putting your underpants away, when I realised there was something hidden underneath the drawer lining. I pulled it out and what did I find. A photograph of another woman. So I say again John, who is she? And what’s her photograph doing in your underwear drawer? What’s going on? And no lies!. Please’
‘That’s going to be difficult’. I thought. ‘Especially with most escape routes closed.’ I decided to stall for a while until I knew the extent of her challenge.
‘If I told you it was my sister, what would you say?’
‘Apart from the word liar, not a lot really. Liar.’ she said.
‘You’ve never met my sister’ I said triumphantly ‘ So how can you call me a liar.’
‘John, there’s a date on the back of the photograph. Your sister according to you died 10 years before this photograph was taken. I’ve never met her, so either we have a case of reincarnation, it ain’t your sister, or if it was, you’re a perv. Now who is she?’
I looked down at the photograph. Memories came flooding back. I still needed to turn it over. What date was she talking about? If I knew that, I could at least have a chance of lying my way out.. For the moment I was well and truly knackered.
‘O.K. You want the truth? I went to the Library a couple of weeks ago.’
‘You haven’t been to the Library in years’ Nancy interrupted.
‘I know that but I was passing by, and just dropped in. They had an exhibition on the Second World War, and I thought well let’s have a look at that. And I did.’
‘What’s that got to do with the photograph?’ said Nancy suspiciously.
‘Well, having walked in, I thought why not have a look round the latest fiction. I haven’t done any serious reading for years.’
‘And?’ she said impatiently.
‘Well. I picked up this novel and as I did so the photograph fell out. When I turned it over and read the back it said ‘To my lover boy’. I don’t know why but when I looked at the girl in the photograph it seemed as if the years had rolled back and she was saying it directly to me. It must have been fate. I walk in the library for the first time in years. I happen to choose one particular book, and in the back is the photograph’
‘So why’d yah keep it? And more importantly why hide it?’ said Nancy.
I didn’t know if I would get away with this one.
‘Well you might not believe this Nancy, but there was something about her that reminded me of you, when we first met. I think that’s what made me want to keep it. Your hair was styled just like that, and you dressed in a similar way’ Emphatically ‘You also used to call me lover boy didn’t yah?’
In reality, my memory was fine. I didn’t need any prompting. Yeah it was true that I’d gone to the library for the first time in many years, and chosen a book at random just before a photograph fell out. Fact. The difference was, I knew who it was instantly. I’d never forgotten Helen. We’d been lovers for a couple of years on and off. Mainly on when her husband was away in the Navy, and off when he came home again, although sometimes we got it a bit mixed up.
At first I couldn’t believe it when the photograph landed at my feet. Kismet? Why me? I wasn’t the only one in Helen’s life. I knew that. She was a lovely, but often lonely young woman, and generous with it, although, I don’t think I knew any of the others. Besides, Nancy and I had just met, and I was becoming increasingly attracted to her.
Now whilst I liked to fantasise about being an object of desire, it was only that. A fantasy. So I’d discretely put the photograph in my pocket, stuffed the book back on the shelf and came home. I wanted to tear it up, but felt strangely compelled to hang on to it even though I knew it might get me in trouble one day. And that day seemed to have arrived, through my underpants drawer.
I was still seeing Helen for about a year after I’d met Nancy. Funny ennit? I’ve been reading about Prince Charles and apparently he was seeing that woman Chameleon, or whatever her name is, for years before he married Diana, and then carried on afterwards. At least I’d packed Helen in eventually. And really meant it – then.
Two years later, I’d just come out of a fish and chip shop when a bus came by and pulled in further up the road. As it passed, I saw this image in one of the bus windows. They were a bit steamed up, but Helen always had a distinctive hairstyle, and face. I recognised her instantly, and throwing my chip supper on the pavement ran after the bus. I was carrying a bit of weight at the time, so was a bit slower than I wanted to be. I was running in slow motion, just like in one of those adverts.
A bloke who got off the bus, at the stop, had a problem with his balance after I smashed into him. By the time I got up off the pavement, the bus had gone, and so had Helen; until my recent visit to the library. That’s why I’d really kept the photograph.
But what could I say to Nancy? She was still looking at me, although her face had softened. What else. I’ll be 75 next week.
‘Want a cup of tea love?’